Speaking of inexperience

Published July 6, 2004 5:04PM (EDT)

One of the leading Republican criticisms of John Edwards, high up in the oppo research package almost immediately e-mailed to reporters from the Republican National Committee this morning, is this observation of Edwards' career path: "Never Held Elective Office, Politics Took Backseat to Legal Career." That's an odd criticism coming from people who pretend to abhor Washington insiders, even as they control most of the federal government -- but it's especially strange that Republicans would want to raise the issue of inexperience given who's on top of their ticket. John Edwards was, as anyone who heard him during the primary season knows, born to a mill worker and the first person in his family to attend college. As a young boy, he wanted to become a lawyer to fight for working people. And he did -- a really good one. After his successful career as a trial lawyer, Edwards decided to try his hand at government. (Sounds like the up-by-the-bootstraps, private-sector-success-turned-public-servant stuff of many GOP dreams). Edwards has served a term in the Senate, where he sat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and co-sponsored the Patients' Bill of Rights with John McCain and Ted Kennedy. But, the RNC says, he has only served about six years in the Senate, so he isn't qualified to be V.P. This is, perhaps, the definition of chutzpah.

Of course, Bush has quite a bit of experience with "inexperience." He served about the same amount of time as Texas governor, from 1994-2000, in a state where the executive yields much power to the Legislature, and before that he was a failed oil executive who used profits from the sale of his Harken Energy stock -- sold miraculously right before the stock value plummeted, which was the subject of an SEC insider trading investigation -- to buy into the Texas Rangers, a deal that made him a multimillionaire. If this man is qualified to be president, we're pretty sure we can trust John Edwards as No. 2.

And if Bush wants to compare his pre-government experience to John Edwards', he may not want to ask David Rubenstein to be a character witness. This is how the co-founder and managing director of the Carlyle Group remembered his first meeting with the man who would be president in a speech last year:

"But when we were putting the board together, somebody [Fred Malek] came to me and said, look there is a guy who would like to be on the board. He's kind of down on his luck a bit. Needs a job. Needs a board position. Needs some board positions. Could you put him on the board? Pay him a salary and he'll be a good board member and be a loyal vote for the management and so forth.

"I said well we're not usually in that business. But okay, let me meet the guy. I met the guy. I said I don't think he adds that much value. We'll put him on the board because -- you know -- we'll do a favor for this guy; he's done a favor for us. We put him on the board and [he] spent three years. Came to all the meetings. Told a lot of jokes. Not that many clean ones. And after a while I kind of said to him, after about three years -- you know, I'm not sure this is really for you. Maybe you should do something else. Because I don't think you're adding that much value to the board. You don't know that much about the company. He said, well I think I'm getting out of this business anyway. And I don't really like it that much. So I'm probably going to resign from the board.

"And I said, thanks -- didn't think I'd ever see him again. His name is George W. Bush. He became President of the United States. So you know if you said to me, name 25 million people who would maybe be President of the United States, he wouldn't have been in that category. So you never know. Anyway, I haven't been invited to the White House for any things."

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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